Provided with an unexpected level of help following a period of hospitalisation, Iain Robertson has not only developed an unerring amount of respect for the nation’s largest supermarket chain (specifically the Lincoln ‘Extra’ branch) but he also wanted to dig deeper.
On a purely personal front, Tesco has been invariably my ‘go to’ supermarket but only when my cash supply has started to dry up, as both Waitrose and Marks & Spencer have probably claimed more than a fair chunk of my disposable income over the years. There are several simple reasons for the latter pair, which start with food snobbery, a choice of alternative but highly desirable speciality products and the perceived high quality of fruit and vegetables. In addition, their stores tend seldom to be as overcrowded as the Tesco outlets.
When the negative news headlines make their impact, should they be about M&S, they are accompanied by an audible sigh of public regret. It affects Waitrose to a lesser extent but, when Tesco becomes the focus, a ‘serves ’em right’ response seems to echo around consumers. Naturally, Tesco is seldom alone, when being criticised, as many of the larger retail emporia can also come under fire, such is the ‘Marmite’ effect that can afflict public opinion.
In 2007, a survey revealed that one in every seven Pounds spent by consumers in an average year, was spent in a Tesco store; today that figure is closer to one in every five. Think about it: it is nearly 20% of its shoppers’ available cash. It does seem like a good reason to be critical. Yet, true to its founder’s mission statement, even though such things did not exist in 1919, in Jack Cohen’s first East End of London shop, and sustainability was hardly popular in a retailer’s vocabulary, Tesco of today aims to bring unrivalled value for money but also healthy produce to each of its valued customers.
Without wishing to bore you with my own experience of Tesco’s ‘try harder’ overriding policy, my one-day-from-hospital release and essential provisions requirement almost led to a two-metres tall Scotsman collapsing in-store, which might have caused a bit of a kerfuffle. Without a moment’s hesitation, or question, a mobility scooter and a personal shopper (for me: a lad called Harrison) were provided in a trice and without pressure. I requested neither. Four packed bags and a shelf-to-car service were totally unexpected but seriously welcomed. In truth, I should not have been driving, let alone shopping. My opinion of Tesco grew accordingly.
One week later, the same service was extended to me but, this time, I was accompanied by Keith Grover, the Community Champion for the Lincoln Tesco Extra store. With my journalistic mind working markedly better than the aging hack’s body, I was exceedingly curious to know more. Appointment made for the following week, Keith promised me brunch (on the company, of course), to allow me to sate my intrigue.
As he explained his role, “It was a level of responsibility that I no longer craved”, he had been a senior manager with Sainsbury’s, until major illness that might have rendered a lesser individual to a disabled state intervened. “I was perfectly happy to stack shelves and fill trollies. However, our excellent store manager (Alex Boak) seemed to recognise something within me that made me suitable for the community support role. Subsequently, provided with enough rope to hang myself, I set about making the role suit my capabilities. Today, the job provides me with an enormous sense of worth and I am grateful to Tesco for it.”
Creating a ‘black book’ of contacts became Keith’s priority, supported fully by the store. “Naturally, one contact would lead to another, such is the networking that occurs within both charity and care scenes. Soon, my name was a first contact for almost 4,400 local community projects. However, since the advent of food banks, I have given that sector priority treatment.”
Putting the programme into perspective, since the start of this year alone, over 500 van deliveries have been made to those Lincolnshire-based organisations and bodies needing assistance…for which there is zero charge and, notably, zero publicity, either sought, or given. Nearly 43,000 meals have been provided and over 18,000kgs of produce, which can also include non-food items from the store’s extensive range, have been delivered. Keith can provide a never-ending gamut of tales both serious and amusing of many of them.
“It’s not all from the store,” he explains, “as our customers are immensely generous, filling a large drop-bin at least twice daily with their own contributions to supporting local causes. However, in the small print, we promise to contribute an equal amount of cash to the community chest, as additional support. In fact, the funds received from the sale of plastic shopping bags are also put into the same pot, which creates some of my annual budget, which fluctuates every year but all of which is spent in the local community.”
The eye-opening activities, of which a sizable proportion of its shoppers will be blissfully unaware, continue with Keith steering everything from fun runs to employees wearing fancy dress (mostly seasonally). He also liaises with the projects supported by other Tesco stores in the region, all in the pursuit of serving the local community in the most efficient, balanced and supportive ways.
Tesco turned over almost £65bn in 2020, a year that many of us might wish to forget. Tesco is classified as one of the Big Four UK supermarket chains, alongside Asda, Sainsbury’s and Morrison’s. Tesco employs around 320,000 personnel in the UK. Tesco profits for 2019/2020 topped £2.2bn. Yet, it is not all about money for Tesco. Its ‘Best Quality’ brands are equal to those of its key rivals, while its ‘Value’ stance can tackle the assault from market newcomers, like Aldi and Lidl, without loss of quality. My future shopping will be carried out at Tesco, although I shall still frequent M&S from time to time.
Conclusion: Tesco is the undisputed groceteria market leader in the UK and is rated as third largest in the world, measured by gross revenues. However, it is also a corporate possessing a beating heart and an unbeatable community stance.